Pay up and your criminal record for some offences could be 'expunged', proposes new law

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Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola.
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola.
GCIS
  • The Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill seeks to expunge certain criminal records that result from an admission of guilt payment.
  • Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on the introduction of the legislation.
  • The bill will be out for public comment next month.

South Africans who have paid an admission of guilt fine for trivial offences will no longer have to worry about incurring a criminal record.

That's if Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has his way with the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill that seeks to expunge certain criminal records that result from an admission of guilt payment.

In response to ACDP MP Steve Swart's written parliamentary question on when the government will introduce legislation preventing an admission of guilt fine from incurring a criminal record, Lamola said his department was addressing the matter through the amendment bill.

"The amendment bill has unfortunately been delayed because of Covid-19," Lamola added.

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At present, Section 57 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA), provides for the admission of guilt in respect of the offence and for the payment of a stipulated fine without an appearance in court.

Section 57A of the CPA provides for the admission of guilt and the payment of a fine, after appearing in a court, but before the accused has entered a plea.

"In terms of Section 57(6) of the CPA, where a fine was paid, the money, together with the summons or written notice to appear must be forwarded to the clerk of the magistrate's court which has jurisdiction, and the clerk must complete the criminal record book for admissions of guilt, whereupon the accused is deemed to have been convicted and sentenced by the court in respect of the offence in question.

"The immediate practical effect of paying an admission of guilt fine is that the accused is excused from court appearance and upon completion of the formalities as prescribed in Section 57(6), deemed to have been convicted and sentenced by the court in respect of the relevant charge," he said.

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Lamola also said not all admission of guilt fines attracted a criminal record.

"Section 341 of the CPA provides for the compounding of certain minor offences and for the payment of a fine in respect of minor offences [which] relate to by-laws and minor traffic offences. The payment of a fine in terms of Section 341 of the CPA does not attract a previous conviction. 

"In short, the CPA allows magistrates to set an amount on the spot on the admission of guilt."

"It is also worth noting that, since this is a judicial function, our department has had engagements with the chief magistrates to try to get uniformity on such fines. There appears to be uniformity within magisterial clusters, but not necessarily uniformity between clusters," Lamola said.

In May, the National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute about 25% of lockdown offences.

Acting Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney de Kock told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services that 25% of the dockets of lockdown offences were not enrolled.

For the majority of the offences, offenders were given a later court date.

Lamola said a draft legislative proposal, in the form of the bill, would revise the current admission of guilt fine "as provided for in the CPA".

This will provide for:
  • The payment of fines that do not give rise to a previous conviction;
  • The payment of admission of guilt fines that do give rise to previous convictions;
  • The expungement of certain criminal records that results from admission of guilt fines;
  • The expungement of criminal records that result from admission of guilt fines that have been paid in respect of trivial offences before the enactment of the proposed law;
  • A process to identify and prescribe the offences, subject to parliamentary approval, that will be subject to the payment of fines that do not give rise to a previous conviction; and
  • A bettered review process in respect of the payment of admission of guilt fines that do give rise to previous convictions.

Lamola said the legislative proposal was at an advanced stage of completion and that a bill would be out for public consultation next month.

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